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August 12, 2013

Hyperloop promises N.Y. to L.A. in 45 minutes

Serial entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk is set to unveil design plans today for the Hyperloop — a superfast transport system that backers say could take people from New York to Los Angeles in 45 minutes.

Musk, a co-founder of PayPal and the man behind commercial space transport firm Space-X and electric car maker Tesla, has been talking about the idea for months. He's provided few details, other than to say he won't take an active role in the project's development and will publish the plans as open source.

He did indicate the concept is similar to one being developed by ET3, a Colorado-based company dedicated to "space travel on earth."

ET3's plan involves using a series of vacuum-sealed tubes to whisk magnetically levitated transport cars around the world -- a concept similar to the old vacuum-sealed air tubes banks used to use for drive-thru customers to make deposits.

A video about the idea claims that in the frictionless environment, the cars, each carrying six people, could top 4,000 miles per hour — six times the speed of a Boeing 757.

The tubes could be built either above ground, buried or laid under the ocean. Because the environment is sealed, passengers would not experience any greater g-forces than riding in an automobile.

The video claims the network could be built for one-tenth the cost of a high-speed rail network, and a quarter of the cost of a highway.

Musk has said it was California's high-speed rail project that first prompted him to research Hyperloop. He called California's Los Angles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail route — currently in the early stages of development — the most expensive, slowest bullet train ever built.

"Isn't there something better we can come up with?" Musk said recently at an All things D conference.

While the idea may sound far fetched, it's theoretically possible. The concept was a popular topic on Twitter Monday.

"Technology tough, but doable," science educator Bill Nye tweeted Monday. "Problems are: buying the rights-of-way & perception of Big Gov't. Someday..."

The idea itself is actually quite old. A 1972 paper from the Rand Corporation outlined the concept, and references to vacuum-sealed transport date back even further in popular culture.

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